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Passing the 'man test': elk hunting in Sweden

Keith Moore · 1 Oct 2010, 10:50

Published: 01 Oct 2010 10:50 GMT+02:00

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As someone who has spent most of his life living in and around London, I can say with confidence that my experience of country life has pretty much been confined to camping in fields at music festivals.

And beyond buying meat at the supermarket, the closest I’ve been to a dead animal was flushing my beloved dead goldfish, Jaws, down the toilet when I was 10 years old.

So it was with a combination of nerves, curiosity and excitement that I accepted an invitation from my girlfriend’s dad, Macke, to accompany him and his buddies elk hunting up north in the Swedish wilderness.

My destination was land dominated by towering pine trees and rolling green pastures near the tiny community of Västanå, which is tucked in among a huge swath of trees about 100 kilometres from both Östersund and Sundsvall.

It takes about four hours to get there from Stockholm by train, and while it’s technically only 30 kilometers from the geographic centre of Sweden, Västanå is considered to be part of Norrland.

It also happens to be where my girlfriend Emmelie was brought up, and where Macke has lived, worked and hunted elk for more than 40 years.

As the boyfriend of his youngest daughter, hunting is the next installment of what Macke jokingly refers to as my “man test”. Although Macke hasn’t said for sure, I think I’ve passed the other parts of his so-called test with a comfortable margin, primarily because they involved drinking alcohol, which is far more in my comfort zone.

Our first day starts with a 5am wake-up call. I’m told I’m not allowed to shower or use deodorant, to try to counter the elks’ sense of smell, which is one of the animals’ best forms of defense from humans, bears and wolves.

In borrowed clothes which leave me looking something like a cross between G.I. Joe and Elmer Fudd, I follow Macke quietly through the forest to our observation position. As elk also have exceptional hearing, we sit in our wooden tower in complete silence.

Surrounded by trees of green and yellow all the way to the horizon, it’s probably the first time in my life I’ve ever heard pure silence. No cars, no people, just the occasional bird chirping. I’ve never understood why people want to live in the middle of nowhere, but at this moment I get it.

And few sights are more sobering than that of the father of your girlfriend holding a rifle. He’s a short man with blue eyes and a friendly smile. But sitting holding a sizeable Weatherby Mark V Magnum, he suddenly seems a lot bigger.

Four more members of our hunting team are stationed at pre-selected watchtowers doing the same thing we are: nothing. Nothing but waiting for the sight of an elk.

Another team member, Pär, is out with a hunting dog equipped with a GPS device so he can track the dog’s location and speed. Based on the dog’s movements, Pär sends a text message to warn the other team members that an elk is headed their way. Who knew that sitting in the woods would involve so much high-tech gadgetry?

Nevertheless, we wait.

And wait some more.

After more waiting, no one has yet to spot an elk. Suddenly, I hear something resembling a long, stuttering fart coming from the direction of Macke. I realize he’s simply mimicking the elk’s mating call. But sadly, no elks appear.

After nine hours, three position changes, and a hefty campfire lunch break with the rest of the team, I sit on a rock in the middle of the forest drifting off.

The silence is suddenly broken by the sound of a shotgun echoing in the distance.

One of the members of our team, Kalle, has shot a male elk. We immediately jump in the car and rush out to find him. After climbing our way through the dense forest, we find Kalle and one of the hunting dogs. Next to them is a male elk, laying stiff and lifeless against a tree.

Male elks roll in their own urine during mating season to attract the females. The smell is awful.

The stench, combined with the sight of this huge 350 kilogramme beast, its tongue hanging out of the side of its mouth, blood pouring from the a single bullet hole, is a bit surreal to a city dweller like me.

To get the elk out of the forest and on to the back of the trailer it needs to be lighter. The three of us roll the elk onto its back and I’m told to hold one of its legs.

Macke grabs a knife, cuts open the elk, and removes its stomach. Again, it’s quite sobering to see the ease with which your girlfriend’s father can plunge his hands wrist deep into a dead animal before pulling out its stomach and intestines. Seeing his hands covered in blood, I tell myself that I’ll always treat Emmelie well.

Macke turns to me: “You wait here and look after the elk while we go back and try to find the best route to get out of here.”

“Look after?” I say.

“Yes, we’ll leave you a gun and dog…in case a bear comes.”

Thankfully, no bear turns up. I’d rather not contemplate what might have happened if one had.

Now, even with the elk now slimmed down to a mere 270 kilogrammes, getting it out of the forest remains a complicated and difficult project involving a machine best described as a trolley with tank tracks beneath it.

Hoisting the massive carcass up requires two of the team’s most well-built members. One of them, Lasse, works in security by day, helping to protect a foreign ambassador to Sweden. He’s tall and muscular with silver hair. Put him in a black suit, give him an earpiece, and he looks like something right out of a movie about the CIA. It takes every inch of his strength to get the elk to the waiting trailer.

We spend the night in a cabin in the forest that has no electricity or running water. Camaraderie seems to be the main attraction for the hunters. But I’m still reeling from the blood and guts I saw just hours before. A few sips of whisky helps numb my senses to the scenes still etched in my brain.

The next morning we pack up and head for the butcher. Four men in aprons stand around drinking beer and hacking away at meat in a dingy, blood-stained room. I feel like I’m in one of the “Saw” horror movies.

New elks arrive. Standing there watching heads and legs get cut off and skin removed leaves me filling somewhat queasy.

One of the other hunters, Mats, turns to me, as if reading my mind.

“Are we barbarians?” he asks.

Story continues below…

I force myself to keep watching. It may be unpleasant to see but it’s reality. This kind of hunting yields organic meat, after all, and feels far more humane than eating meat from animals raised and slaughtered in squalor.

Lasse reflects on the attraction of the hunt, helping me get past the gory scenes before me.

“I like to be in the nature, I like the hunting colleagues, I like being in the forest and I like meat,” he explains.

“The elks are living in nature and so are we”

“I also like the thrill, he adds.

“When you shoot one you get a real kick out of it.”

That evening, packed up and in the more familiar confines of a train heading back to Stockholm with slabs of meat in my cooler, I relish the fact that, for once, I know exactly where the meat I’ll be eating came from.

My notepad is more used to ink and paper cuts than the patches of elk blood that now stain its pages, but to be honest I prefer it that way. The whole experience has given me a better understanding of an aspect of life in Sweden that is miles away from Stockholm’s urban sophistication.

I respect it.

I just don’t think I’ll ever be able to live it the way Emmelie’s father and his hunting mates do.

But at least I passed the next phase of Macke’s “man test”.

Keith Moore (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

11:30 October 1, 2010 by Roy E
'Man test'? What a joke. That's something only a sheltered urban wimp could come up with. Well at least he's learned that the source of food is not the store. It's a start.
12:34 October 1, 2010 by seagull
willy waving machismo test more like.
14:54 October 1, 2010 by Sam1
He is a very professional writer and a very clever man, With words I feel as if i was hunting with them, how he describes each and everything so decently with full detail.

He might not be from the guys who can shed blood of an Animal he sounds more like an educated person not just education of Schools but life.

Roy E a mans test, he meant was that her father thought that he is a city boy but he proved that he could hunt if he had to. just in his father inlaws eyes, otherwise he is a man otherwise he wouldnt get to have that mans daughter.

I do hope to see more Sweds who can write descriptively like that, and have some extra attention to feelings and emotions and thoughts, otherwise I feel like i'm in a Zombie land here, not all can express and talk like him, most are like robots, this man you can sit with and have a coffee and have a dialog, others are just PRECIS, JA JAHA , PRECIS and keep shut.
15:16 October 1, 2010 by Russ Cobleigh
yeah, standing in a huge wooden blind, about eight feet off of the ground, What a test!!!!
16:00 October 1, 2010 by Roy E

'wimp' might be too harsh a term - it should be reserved for those unwilling to even give it a try. The writer does deserve some credit for giving it a go.

But the anthropological perspective betrays a life of one insulated from the realities of life, living a sanitized existence enabled only by others doing the 'dirty work' for them. out of sight, out of mind.

Sorry, but this was no 'test of manhood'. It was an outing. But from it he has developed a little more appreciation for where food comes from. That cannot help but be a good thing, for people who do their ' dirty work' are must less likely to waste - and much more likely to appreciate.
17:41 October 1, 2010 by Irishmanabroad
Excellent story, I had a similar experience myself in Africa, except "sitting in a wooden tower and text each other and using GPS" ain't hunting.

We tracked the animals for days before we eventually caught up and shot them.

I'm glad however that my sambos Dad is a pasivist!
19:24 October 1, 2010 by Redbee
Getting a thrill by sitting in a hide and shooting an animal that has no chance by some so-called macho primitives is pathetic. While i acept that it is preferable to factory farm killing it's even better being a vegetarian .It's healthily and morally superior plus the fact that the human gut will not end up as an animal's graveyard .
19:45 October 1, 2010 by Freyja14
Wow, what a lame story!! Cool, you shot a defenseless animal with your big gun. Good for you......you're still not packing any heat in your pants......It's like the little man syndrome. Over compensation so you can feel more manly because you're lacking in other places. Go get a lifted truck and a tribal tattoo while your at it!!
20:45 October 1, 2010 by organismasawhole
agree with Freyja14, well said :-)
00:34 October 2, 2010 by Tanskalainen
"Elk" is strictly a European term. What they were actually hunting were Moose.
00:45 October 2, 2010 by Ken114
Redbee says being a vegetarian morally superior... sounds like simple minded dribble.to me. While you are feeling superior in your little life , I'll take my elk / moose medium rare with mashed potatoes please
03:46 October 2, 2010 by shiraz
It is sad that any animal should be subservient and docile in front of your species - because you tend to kill it ( and you kill them otherwise as well). May you start growing meat in petri dishes in labs and stop shedding the blood of the innocent. May all your troubles come to an end and may you stop hunting animals for sport and to satisfy your hunger.
12:29 October 2, 2010 by caradoc
I think it is ridiculous to read all theses comments from meat eaters about the shooting of a wild Elk. At least the animal had a chance of not being killed and hopefully died quickly.

You are the same people buying prepackaged meat at the shops .

Meat from animals that have been raised to slaughter, then transported long distances in distress and panic and then herded into a large shed with the smell of death and the noise of panic all around them. Animals that have never experienced the wild .

I suppose as long as the meat is prepackaged ,pumped full with growth hormones and presented on the supermarket shelf its not killing?
15:09 October 2, 2010 by Freyja14
Or perhaps some of the comments are from vegetarians...did you think about that one?! I don't support factory farming either, it's even more cruel then hunting. I just stay away from meat altogether.
19:57 October 2, 2010 by bill/usa/mora
we use the term Elk in the states as well
20:22 October 2, 2010 by mikewhite
"Elk is strictly a European term" … yes, Sweden is in Europe …

Typo PS to author: I imagine the elk was "lying" against the tree; if it was "laying" I would think it was a hen ;-)
02:17 October 3, 2010 by Tanskalainen
bill/usa/mora You are confused. Some people in the U.S. and Canada still use the term "Elk" incorrectly to describe Cervus canadensis --- correctly known as Wapiti. This is NOT the animal being hunted in this article. Look at the photo it is a friggin' moose which is what they call an elk or elg in Europe. That's all I was trying to point out!
04:58 October 3, 2010 by granskare
It looks like a 'moose' to me...in USA that is our term for this animal...

I like the story as well :)
11:17 October 3, 2010 by Keith #5083
Oh yeah, it's that time of the year when all the Mr.Magoo's from the city, with their new hunting gear and hipflasks, descend upon the forest standing by the roadside waiting for the elk to cross.

Could be worse I 'spose, Sarah Palin could arrive with her helicopter!!
11:21 October 3, 2010 by hilt_m
I liked the story, I understand that he's joking when he refers to this as a man test, come on guys he's not writing about an ancient right of passage or something. Those hard core hunters out there will probably look on this as anything but hunting. To him and them it's hunting, give me a hunter who's tracked game for 3 days and shot it and put him next to a bushman who's tracked game across a desert for a week and run it down and killed it with a spear, which ones the hunter? I am by no means a hunter, but having spent a number of years in the military, put me in the bush with a rifle and enough time, I'm sure I could hunt something should their be a need.
12:23 October 3, 2010 by Attestupa
Thanks for the story. I enjoyed your observations. Hunting is not my thing, but it helps to get an insight into Swedish culture.
19:36 October 3, 2010 by planethero
Great article, i emjoyed it, thanks.
21:40 October 3, 2010 by avery1204
I enjoyed that article, very well written. And then I sighed as I read a handful of the comments and just shook my head at the attitude on some people. Sad.

Keep up the good writing man.
00:00 October 4, 2010 by mikewhite
I think if your girlfriend had been from certain parts of Finland you could have written a similar story.
07:59 October 4, 2010 by Kong
An xlnt piece of writing.
10:25 October 7, 2010 by summo

You will find people in Europe were hunting Elk, long before they even settled in North America and some how renamed it 'Moose'. What is the native American name for Elk / Moose?

A lame article straight for a 'City Slicker' script!! Just change the setting. I hope he doesn't write creatively for a living.
02:48 October 12, 2010 by MorbidMiss
It really seemed like more of a "blog" than an article. I think a lot of people are complaining about the writing because they do not agree with hunting or at least his girlfriend's father's version of it. I have to admit I blanched at the thought of gps and texting.

But as far as being vegetarian being "morally superior" grow up. People have different opinions and you are just going to have to get over yourself. You are not better than any one else, you have a different diet.
18:26 December 10, 2010 by Finnreader
Nothing quite like reading dumbass comment from disney-damaged people who buy meat from the store every week.
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